By Dallas Woodhouse
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — In public and behind the scenes, there’s a lot of movement on both sides of the aisle as candidates prepare to enter the race to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, setting up competitive primaries and a general election race in 2022.
Another well-known candidate appears to be serious about launching a bid, Carolina Journal has learned.
Sources confirm that former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has hired a new campaign consultant and is preparing to announce her entry into the Democratic primary. Beasley has moved on from her previous consultant, Kimberly Reynolds, former executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party. Beasley is assembling a new team, and an announcement could come in days.
Other sources close to former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory confirm that McCrory has taken initial steps to run later this year. His entry into the race as of today is likely. A source close to McCrory said of the former governor’s preparation that he “has moved well past the kicking-the-tires phase and into the planning phase.”
Beasley for the Democrats and McCrory for the Republicans would likely be the early front-runners for the nominations of their respective parties. They are the only two candidates that previously have won statewide contests. Beasley captured the N.C. Court of Appeals race in 2008 and state Supreme Court in 2014, and McCrory won for governor in 2012 and lost re-election to current Gov. Roy Cooper.
Both candidates also have the unique distinction of being on the losing end of two of the closest statewide political contests in N.C. history. Beasley lost November’s chief justice race to Republican Paul Newby by 400 votes out of nearly 5.4 million cast. McCrory lost his 2016 re-election bid to Cooper by 11,000 votes out of 4.6 million cast, or 0.22%.
Last week, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination.
Jackson joins former state Sen. Erica Smith in the 2022 Democratic primary. Smith was defeated by Cal Cunningham, 57% to 35%, in the March 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Smith complained bitterly that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Washington Democrats played favorites in the primary, greatly tipping the scales toward Cunningham.
Smith had trouble gaining traction, as well as getting along with other Democrats in the legislature when she served there.
Jackson became the second-youngest state senator when he was elected in 2014. He is also a captain in the Army National Guard. He has 18 years of military service. Jackson backed out of running for the U.S. Senate in 2020 after meeting with Schumer.
Jackson, speaking to a class at UNC-Charlotte in 2020, said if he ran for Senate he would hold “100 town halls in 100 days” in each of the state’s 100 counties.
In a leaked recording obtained by The Charlotte Observer, Jackson said Schumer told him that was the “wrong answer. We want you to spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money, and then we’re going to spend 80% of it on negative ads about [incumbent Republican Sen. Thom] Tillis.”
Jackson is already being unfavorably compared to Cunningham, another white male Democrat candidate. Both have thin legislative records. Like Cunningham, Jackson would be basing much of his Senate run on his military career.
Jackson, keenly aware of the comparisons with Cunningham, declared in his first statewide television interview that he had not cheated on his wife. Jackson offered that statement without ever being asked that question by Spectrum News anchor Tim Boyum.
“I think you are trying to find a polite way to ask me if I have ever cheated on my wife, and the answer is no, and I think after what happened last time that is a totally fair question,” said Jackson in the Spectrum interview.
Democrat consultant Thomas Mills wrote that Jackson “clearly can’t read a room and has a lousy sense of timing. He’s jumping into the primary when the energy in the Democratic Party is with women and African Americans, and an African American woman is already in the race. And nobody, except social media warriors, is clamoring for the next election to begin. Within a few weeks, most people will have forgotten he announced.”
Mills continued his brutal takedown of Jackson:
“Jackson’s candidacy reminds everybody of Cal Cunningham’s debacle, which reminded everybody of John Edwards’ scandal. Fair or not, North Carolina Democrats are wary of white, telegenic, male lawyers with thin resumes. To his credit, Jackson has been in the Senate longer than Cunningham, but since he spent his time in the legislature in the minority, he has no signature accomplishments.”
Democratic consultant Brad Crone says Beasley will automatically become the Democratic frontrunner because the party energy is behind diversity and particularly African American women.
“Beasley is a strong campaigner. She came within 400 votes of winning a statewide race in 2020, and it may not be fair to Sen. Jeff Jackson, but Democrats do not want to nominate a Cal No. 2,” Crone said. “Democrats believe a strong African American is needed at the top of the ticket in 2022 to bring voters of color to the polls.”
Mills also wrote glowingly of Beasley:
“She would bring gravitas to the race and also appeals to the center of gravity in the Democratic Party. Black women are both the most loyal Democratic voters and among their hardest workers. If she won, Beasley would be the only African American woman in the U.S. Senate and the first to serve from a Southern state. Her historic candidacy would attract support from minority and progressive communities across the nation.”
Gary Pearce, a former top aide to four-term Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt, says the hangover from Cunningham’s disastrous run makes Democrats more likely to nominate a candidate of color.
“Black and progressive Democrats resent how Sen. Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee anointed Cunningham. The critics think he was picked because he fit a certain mold: white, male, good hair, a veteran, moderate, and no real voting record to attack.”
On the Republican side, former 6th District Congressman Mark Walker announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination Dec. 1. He’s the only announced Republican in the race. Walker, a minister by profession, is expected to lean heavily on the evangelical community for support.
McCrory has been in contact with key donors, consultants, and former staff. Despite his narrow loss to Cooper in 2016, McCrory remains popular with Republican voters. In December 2019, Civitas polling showed McCrory defeating then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in a primary for the GOP nomination for governor, 48% to 32%.
A 2022 run for U.S. Senate would be McCrory’s fourth statewide race in the past 14 years. He lost the open 2008 governor’s race to Democrat Bev Perdue, won an open race for the same job in 2012, then lost to Cooper in 2016. The Cooper/McCrory election was the closest governor’s race in N.C. history. Sources indicate those close to Republican leadership in Washington are encouraging a McCrory bid because of his ability to raise significant money needed to mount a creditable campaign and his ability to appeal to suburban voters and “soccer moms” who turned away from Republicans in 2020.
“Pat McCrory is a seasoned campaigner,” said political consultant Chris Sinclair, who has worked on past McCrory efforts. “He has proven he can win; proven he can win a primary and a general election. He will be extremely formidable. He has a strong record of policy achievement. He understands all parts of North Carolina: the east, the west, the rural, and the urban. He is the right man at the right time.”
McCrory’s entry into the race is not imminent. McCrory has never favored long, drawn-out political contests, believing voters grow weary of permanent political campaigns. McCrory hosts a popular drive-time radio show in Charlotte. He will have to give up that job when he formally declares his candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission.
Sources close to 13th District Congressman Ted Budd indicate he still is giving serious consideration to entering the race. Budd is being encouraged by the conservative Club for Growth organization.
Sources close to the Trump family tell Carolina Journal that while Wilmington native Lara Trump has not ruled out a Senate bid in 2022, events of the last month have made a bid by the daughter-in-law of the former president less likely. The 38-year-old former Lara Lea Yunaska, who graduated from N.C. State, became Lara Lea Trump on Nov. 8, 2014, after a six-year relationship with Eric Trump.
Lara Trump would also have to return to North Carolina and establish residency, and she may need to embark on some type of statewide tour, similar to the 100-county tour Elizabeth Dole conducted in the run-up to her successful 2002 Senate bid. That could be an extremely difficult task with two children younger than five. A source who has recently discussed the matter with the Trump family doesn’t expect Lara to enter the race.